25 December 2013

Quickie Movie Review: "Frozen"

Rated: PG for some action and mild rude humor
Starring: Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, and Jonathan Groff
Released: November 27, 2013 (theaters)
Synopsis: Princess Elsa (Idina Menzel, Enchanted) was born with the power to freeze things and make ice...but, an accident that nearly leads to the death of her sister Anna (Kristen Bell, Veronica Mars) makes her ashamed of her power, and causes her to steer clear of her only sibling.  At Elsa's coronation, Anna announces that she wants to marry Hans (Santino Fontana), even though she'd only known him for one day, which makes Elsa so upset that her powers become out of control, causing the entire world to be frozen.  Anna knows that Elsa is the only one who can put a stop to the worldwide freeze...but will Elsa figure out how in time?
Based on "The Snow Queen" by Hans Christian Andersen.

My Review: This movie has been heralded as a return to classic Disney form.  As I was watching this movie, I was preparing my review to go something like this: "I know this is contrary to popular opinion, but I thought this movie was a travesty.  Though the animation is amazing, great graphics no longer make a movie good.  The musical numbers are overdone; the Mickey Mouse cartoon at the start is both overly long and inane; and, the film itself goes on for too long.  I know it's Disney, and people would expect me to like it, but most people don't realize that I like the Mouse House's live-action productions, such as Flubber, Sky High, and George of the Jungle, not to mention the various sitcoms on the Disney Channel."  However, even though I was a bit frustrated at times, the ending made my heart soar, and not just in a thank-goodness-it's-over kind of way.  Despite my annoyances with the film, I think the House of Mouse has done this one right.

Content Concerns:
  • Sex: A couple of brief kisses. 4.5/5
  • Nudity: Elsa and Anna both wear off-the-shoulder dresses. 4.5/5
  • Language: Two uses of the term "butt". 4.5/5
  • Violence: Comedic violence and fantasy violence are both present here.  Two people die in a shipwreck; mishaps with Elsa's powers lead to several near-death incidents; a man is punched in the face for being a jerk; cartoon violence is seen throughout the Mickey Mouse cartoon that precedes the film. 2.75/5
  • Drugs: A guy is seen with a glass of wine. 4.5/5
  • Frightening/Intense Scenes: Along with the deaths and near-deaths, a snow monster chases some of the characters. 3/5
  • Other: Some people may have trouble with the usage of magic in the film.  Also, both the film itself and at least one of the previews preceding it make reference to flatulence. 4/5

24 December 2013

Movie Review: "Man of Steel"

Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence, action, and destruction, and for some language
Starring: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, and Michael Shannon
Released: June 14, 2013 (wide theatrical release) / November 12, 2013 (DVD/Blu-Ray)
Synopsis: Before the planet Krypton implodes, scientist Jor-El (Russell Crowe, Les Miserables) sends his son Kal-El (Henry Cavill, Immortals) to our planet for safety, where he is adopted by a young childless couple (Diane Lane, Secretariat, and Kevin Costner, Field of Dreams) in rural Smallville, Kansas.  As he grows up, he realizes there is something different about himself...but what could it be, and why does he have such abilities? When a group of criminals from Krypton come to Earth in search of Kal-El, they seem well-intentioned...until he and new friend Lois Lane (Amy Adams, Enchanted) find out that their actual intent is to destroy Earth solely to bring Krypton back to life.  Only a Man of Steel could even hope to stop them...but will he be enough?
Produced by Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight, Inception).

Artistic Merit

Plot: 5/5
You know a movie is amazing when you watch it on your iPad and it still has you glued to the screen.  Seriously, though the story takes liberties with the Superman legend--as you can see above--the story is the same kind of engaging, suspenseful yarn we've come to expect from Christopher Nolan.

Production Values: 5/5
Nothing to complain about in this department, either.  Amazing acting; outstanding special effects; great soundtrack; wonderful action sequences...what's not to like?

Moral Content

Positive Elements: 4.5/5
Superman and others--including his adopted father--put their lives on the line to save others.  The villains' desire to get their way no matter the cost is shown as evil.  A priest tells Superman, "Sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith," and he does.

Sex: 3.5/5
The movie starts off with a childbirth scene, though nothing explicit is shown.  There is also some kissing.  Probably the most serious thing is this department is a crude remark about "measuring" private anatomy.

Nudity: 3.5/5
Superman is seen shirtless for a while, and Lara (Superman's biological mother) wears a dress that shows a bit of cleavage.  Baby Kal-El's private area is shown a couple of times.

Language: 3.5/5
The d-word, a-word, and h-word are used about three times each, and the s-word as well as a euphemism for the f-word are both used once.  God's name is misused a couple of times, and a slang term for a part of the private anatomy is used twice.

Violence: 2/5
The good news about the violence in this movie is that it's only slightly bloody and not the least bit gory.  The bad news? There's quite a bit of it, and it's rather intense.  People are shot at with both earthly and intergalactic weapons; two people are killed by having their necks snapped; one man dies from a tornado; explosions and Kryptonians slamming through buildings happen quite frequently; and, at the start of the movie, a planet implodes.

Drugs: 4/5
A couple of brief scenes have people consuming alcoholic beverages.

Frightening/Intense Scenes: 1.5/5
Whether emotionally or violently, there's little in this film that isn't intense in some way.

Final Score: 4.5/5
After finishing this movie, all I can say is, "Wow." Christopher Nolan has done it once again, folks.  Some of the purists may bristle at the liberties that were taken with the story, but who wants to see the same exact tale told again and again? If you watch this movie...prepare to be amazed.

18 December 2013

DVD Set Review: "X-Men" (Anime)

Rated: TV-MA (US) / PG (Canada)
Starring: Steve Blum, Cam Clarke, and Danielle Nicolet
Released: April 1 - June 24, 2011 (original TV premiere) / 2012 (DVD)
Synopsis: A year after the death of Jean Grey/Phoenix, the remaining X-Men are sent to Japan to find a missing young mutant, Hisako Ichiki, by request of her parents.  What they end up finding is more than they bargained for; a massive conspiracy unfolds involving an old enemy of theirs, a well-intentioned experiment gone wrong, a big secret that even Professor X doesn't know about, and mental trickery that could lead to world destruction! Only the X-Men could face something like this...but will even their combined powers be enough?

Artistic Merit

Plots: 4.5/5
The series starts out very intriguingly, and continued to keep me on the edge of my seat...until the final episode, which fell a little flat.  Still, it was almost entirely quite the thrill ride.

Production Values: 4.5/5
The animation within the series was fabulous; the character designs, backgrounds, effects, and everything else was well done.  I liked the American voice actors, though it would have been better if the cast of the film trilogy--or even the later film(s)--had reprised their live-action roles.  The one problem laid in the fact that the closed captions and spoken dialogue almost never matched up, sometimes having one character talking when you could hear someone else was! Maybe that was meant for people who watched it with the Japanese audio.

Moral Content

(Warning! Though I will try my best to avoid spoiling the plot details, even vague descriptions might give some of the story away! Proceed with caution!)

Positive Elements: 5/5
Like any group of superheroes, the X-Men work together, putting their lives on the line for not only each other, but the greater good.  Two parents realize that their son must die to save the world, but decide to let it happen, even being willing to die themselves if necessary.  Mutants and humans also learn to cooperate.  A girl takes a serious risk to save her friend...and the world.

Sexual Content: 4/5
It is implied that two unmarried friends had an illicit affair that produced a child, but the two of them are never seen in bed together or even kissing.

Nudity: 3.5/5
One female character's costume shows a great deal of cleavage, and another's shows some slight midriff.  Parts of male characters' chests are seen at times.

Language: 3/5
Though definitely not deserving of the "TV-MA," the language within this series alone could earn a "PG-13" from the MPAA.  D-words, h-words, b-words, and other "fit for TV" profanities are thrown around at least three or four times per episode.  There is also some occasional name-calling.

Violence: 2.5/5
Is the violence intense? Yes. Is it graphic? Not in the least bit! Characters hit, kick, punch, claw, blast, etc., each other throughout the series, but there's very little blood and zero gore.  I'm not sure why this was rated "TV-MA"; I think it deserved "TV-14" at worst.

Drugs: 4/5
The plot involves chemically-based transformations, but they're intended for usage only in the name of science.

Frightening/Intense Scenes: 1/5
There's little within this series that couldn't be considered frightening and/or intense.  It is implied that a villainous group is harvesting mutant organs; more than one character undergoes a scary transformation; and, some of the projected visions are a bit freaky, if not emotionally intense.

Final Score: 4/5
Some discerning moviegoers had problems with the original X-Men film trilogy, especially the last two movies, if only because of the sexual content; that is pretty much not present here.  What is present is a gripping story, amazing animation...and a heavy dose of intense (though not graphic) violence, along with a moderate amount of language.  For those who don't mind such content, this is definitely worth watching.
A side note: It's funny how both the American and Canadian ratings would be wrong; the latter is too high, whereas the former is too low.  Previously, I prided myself on not watching anything rated "TV-MA"; I had no idea this series was until I looked the rating up for purposes of this review.  How a show like this can get the same rating as movies or shows that are too raunchy, violent, and/or profane to even be shown on network television--or Disney Channel Original Movies, which often get a "PG" from the Canadian raters, for whatever reason--is a complete mystery.  Come on, media rating people; get it together!

13 December 2013

Quickie Movie Review: "The Secret World of Arrietty"

Rated: G for general audiences
Starring: Bridgit Mendler, David Henrie, and Will Arnett (English version)
Released: February 17, 2012 (US wide theatrical release) / May 22, 2012 (DVD/Blu-Ray)
Synopsis: In a secret world hidden beneath the floorboards, little people, known as Borrowers, live quietly among us...but, when tenacious and tiny Arrietty (Bridgit Mendler, Good Luck Charlie) is discovered by Shawn (David Henrie, Wizards of Waverly Place), a human boy, their secret and forbidden friendship blossoms into an extraordinary adventure.  Based on the award-winning classic novel The Borrowers by Mary Norton.
(Adapted from the back cover of the US DVD edition)

My Review: The animation in this movie is outstanding! This is definitely better in that respect than many of the "modern" cartoons you see on kids' networks these days.  Unfortunately, everything else is only mediocre at best.  The voice work is only passable, with Shawn sounding as if he is on drugs.  A dumb song by artist C├ęcile Corbel--who?--dominates and ruins the soundtrack, with Bridgit Mendler's musical contribution only heard during the last part of the closing credits.  Some of the characters were just plain goofy, and the plodding plot made this very hard for me to finish.  Unless you're a die-hard fan of Japanese animation, I really can't recommend this; these days, well-animated movies are everywhere, and pretty graphics can't save a dull story any more than they can save a poorly designed video game.

Content Concerns:
  • Sex: None. 5/5
  • Nudity: A girl's underwear is seen briefly. 4.75/5
  • Language: One usage of the term "idiots." 4.75/5
  • Violence: A crow gets caught in a windowsill, and a lady hits it with a slipper; a Borrower holds up the leg of a cricket, which he cut off to eat; another Borrower is placed in a jar by a regular human.  Not too much in this department. 4/5
  • Drugs: Someone is seen drinking, wine bottles are seen in the background, and it is assumed that a woman was "hitting the sherry," though she actually wasn't. 4/5
  • Frightening/Intense Scenes: The Borrowers encounter plenty of "big" things--people, a cat, a raccoon, etc.--which are shown from their perspective, making normally non-scary things bigger and scarier than they actually are. 3.5/5
Final Score: 2.25/5

09 December 2013

Quickie Movie Review: "The Dust Factory"

Rated: PG for thematic elements and some scary images
Starring: Hayden Panettiere, Ryan Kelley, and Armin Mueller-Stahl
Released: October 15, 2004 (limited theatrical release) / March 22, 2005 (DVD)
Synopsis: After suffering accidents, Ryan (Ryan Kelley, Mean Creek) and Melanie (Hayden Panettiere, Heroes) meet in an enchanting new world called the Dust Factory, where amazing things happen. People walk on water and disappear in the mist, and Ryan's grandfather (Armin Mueller-Stahl, Shine), who has Alzheimer's, is now lucid. With magic everywhere, will Ryan and Melanie ever find the courage to leave this wondrous sanctuary and return home?
(Adapted from the back cover of the DVD)

My Review: I only learned one thing from watching this: Unless I am absolutely sure it will be good--i.e., I've seen it before, or it's from a series that I know I like--I will not buy any DVDs from the clearance rack at MovieStop! This absurd "movie" had low-quality special effects, poor acting at times, and an overall dumb plot.  I doubt even die-hard fans of the stars in this movie would like this mess.  If you're looking for a movie that is both strange and fun, go rent The Great Buck Howard, which was both good and like nothing I'd previously seen.  Honestly, the only place this movie belongs is in the bottom of a trash bin.

Content Concerns:
  • Sex: The kids exchange a few brief kisses. 4.25/5
  • Nudity: A woman shows some slight cleavage. 4.5/5
  • Language: Some mild name-calling and occasional profanity. 4/5
  • Violence: An implied death because of a train/auto incident, and a kid falling from a bridge that leads him onto his otherworldly adventure.  Nothing too serious. 4/5
  • Drugs: Two kids make a "toast," though it is unclear exactly what they're drinking. 4/5
  • Frightening/Intense Scenes: The entire movie's oddness is a bit scary, and could be off-putting to kids, especially ones who are too young to understand what's going on. 2/5
  • Other: A comment from Ryan's grandfather implies that all roads lead to heaven, which contradicts John 14:6. 4/5
 Final Score: 0/5

07 December 2013

Book Series Review: "Zion Legacy" by Bodie and Brock Thoene

Authors: Bodie and Brock Thoene
Published: 2000 - 2002 by Viking
Synopsis: The story that began in Zion Covenant and continued in Zion Chronicles lives on in Zion Legacy.  From war-torn Jerusalem to the time of Yeshua the Messiah, these six books describe tumultuous times in history.

Artistic Merit

Plots: 2/5
The series starts out great, with plenty of action and intensity.  However, from the fourth book onward, it begins dealing with stories during Bible times that have nothing to do with the beloved characters in the previous novels, which ends up being simply a segue into the authors' A.D. Chronicles stories.  What a bait-and-switch!

Writing: 5/5
The Thoenes are great writers, and this series is just as well-written as one would come to expect from their other writings.

Moral Content: 3/5

I said that I wasn't going to discuss content concerns of Christian entertainment unless I felt something in particular was worth noting; in this case, it's the violence.  Both the twentieth century and first century stories are rather violent, and it may be too much for some readers.  Preview the first book before buying the entire series.

Final Score: 2.5/5
I hate to give a series by the Thoenes a bad review, but they appear to have sold out on us readers.  When the last half of a six-book set is essentially an advertisement for another set, that's just unacceptable.  I'm not sure if I want to keep reading their books.

DVD Set Review: "Defenders of the Earth": The Complete Series: Volume One

Rated: TV-Y7 for fantasy violence
Starring: Loren Lester, Lou Richards, and Sarah Partridge
Released: 1986 - 1987 (original TV premieres) / October 10, 2006 (DVD)
DISCLAIMER: I did not watch the entire set, but feel that I watched enough of it--nineteen of the thirty-three episodes--to do a review.  Read on to see why I didn't complete the set.

Synopsis: The evil Ming the Merciless wants nothing more to overtake our planet, and has set up a base in the Arctic called Ice Station Earth.  The world's only hope lies with the Defenders of the Earth: magician Mandrake, strongman Lothar, a "ghost who walks" known as the Phantom, and intergalactic warrior Flash Gordon, along with their kids.  With Ming stopping at nothing to rule the world, our heroes will have to use everything they've got to stop him...but even that may not be enough.


Artistic Merit

Plots: 2/5
Sure, the series started off interestingly enough, but, after a while, it got tiresome.  It would have been better if there had been some multiple episode arcs; in other superhero series, those were always the best episodes, because the story was more convoluted.  Instead, things simply wrap up too quickly and easily.

Production Values: 1.75/5
The animation is mostly great, though it has its moments where the animators were simply being lazy, especially with the lip movements in some early episodes.  Most of the voice work is only tolerable at best, with some characters being especially annoying, namely Ming's cyber assistant Octon, who starts off every droning sentence with, "Sire..."  Though the music is decent--nothing special, anyway--the cyber monster in the "Chips 'N Bits" episode sounds terrible.  A lack of closed captions and subtitles in any language is likely to upset those who are hard of hearing or aren't all that well-versed in English.

Moral Content

Positive Elements: 4/5
The Defenders constantly look out for each other, even putting their lives on the line for one another.  Some villainous characters make a change for the better by the episode's end.

Sex: 5/5
None.

Nudity: 4.25/5
In a few episodes, guys are seen in tribal garb that bares their chests and their legs.  Jedda (the Phantom's daughter) and one villainess wear outfits that show cleavage once each.  Still, the stylizing of the animation makes it less sultry.

Violence: 3.75/5
The "fantasy violence" is actually very mild; more so than most "E"-rated video games.  Though characters do engage in fisticuffs, intergalactic dogfights, and such, it's not really very intense.  Two characters do die, but one is resurrected, and the other "lives on" via cyber technology.

Language: 4/5
Ming often calls the Defenders and others "fools" and other G-rated insults.

Drugs: 5/5
None.

Frightening/Intense Scenes: 4/5
Some of the monsters could be scary for kids; one of them looks like something out of a horror movie.

Other: 4/5
Some may be bothered by Mandrake's usage of magic, though it is much more in the style of Bewitched than Charmed.

Final Score: 2/5
I hate to not finish a TV season set, but, after watching at least two or three episodes of this mess a week over the past month or so, I'd just had enough.  Though most series tend to be a bit repetitive, this one's poor production values made it positively nerve-grating.  You might feel differently if you grew up with this series, but, I am ready to be done with it.

04 December 2013

Movie Review: "A Christmas Carol" (1999)

Rated: G (Canadian Home Video Rating)
Starring: Patrick Stewart, Richard E. Grant, and Joel Grey
Released: December 5, 1999 (television premiere) / November 7, 2000 (DVD)
Synopsis: Patrick Stewart (Star Trek: The Next Generation, X-Men) breathes new life into the classic Dickens Yuletide tale! Miserly old Scrooge despises Christmas, and calls it a "humbug."  One night, he gets visited by three spirits: one who shows what was, one who shows what is, and one who shows what could be to come.  Will Scrooge end his miserly ways?
(Oh, come on; like you don't already know the story?)

Artistic Merit

Plot: 4.5/5
You can't beat the classics.  Seriously, if the original Dickens story was worthless, how could it have survived all these years?  Still, there are a few slow moments.

Production Values: 4/5
The acting is excellent, especially from Mr. Stewart.  The special effects are mostly great, though I did feel that one or two such scenes were a bit lackluster.  The soundtrack is good, but nothing special.

Moral Content

Positive Elements: 5/5
Scrooge learns the error of his ways and makes a change for the better.  (You already knew that, right?) Also, the true reason for Christmas is shown more than in other holiday movies, as attending church is both mentioned and seen, and religious Christmas carols--"Silent Night," "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen"--are heard.

Sexual Content: 5/5
None.

Nudity: 4.5/5
A few women are seen in off-the-shoulder and/or low-cut dresses.

Language: 4/5
The d-word is used a time or two, and God's name is misused once or twice.  Name-calling is also present.

Violence: 4.5/5
Kids throw snowballs at Scrooge, and he throws them back.

Drugs: 4/5
Some people drink at holiday parties.

Frightening/Intense Scenes: 2.5/5
The Ghost of Christmas Present shows two children, who are described as Ignorance and Want, and are rather repulsive-looking (intentionally so, mind you.)  Also, the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is a mute, dark specter who has rather creepy eyes.  I can't help but think that those two things alone would have caused the MPAA to rate this "PG," especially by the tighter standards of 1999.
Also, a possible future situation shows the deaths of two characters, one of whom is Scrooge; his grave opens up, and he falls onto his own dead body before waking up.

Final Score: 3/5
I got this movie last year at a nearby garage sale, and finally got around to watching it in bits and pieces over the past two weeks or so.  Now that I have finished it, I don't think I will ever be watching it again.  Though there have been countless interpretations of Dickens' Yuletide ghost story, the one I grew up with was The Muppet Christmas Carol; in fact, I think that's the only version of the story I've seen more than once.  Sure, it's got the Muppet brand of silliness, but, when I watch other versions, they just don't seem to stack up...and that's exactly the case with this one.  If you're looking for a little-known Christmas movie this holiday season, this one might be worth a try; still, a rental is all I can suggest.

01 December 2013

DVD Season Set Review: "Justice League": Season One

Rated: TV-PG for violence
Starring: Carl Lumbly, George Newbern, and Susan Eisenberg
Released: November 17, 2001 - November 9, 2002 (original TV premieres) / March 21, 2006 (DVD)
Synopsis: Superman.  Batman.  Wonder Woman.  The Flash.  Martian Manhunter.  Hawkgirl.  Green Lantern.  Though they have the same goal, they never fought together...until invading aliens bent on destroying Earth can only be defeated by the combined powers of the superheroes, who quickly become known as the Justice League.  Unfortunately, villains and villainesses will stop at nothing to thwart the League.  Whether it's an immortal sorceress intent on finding the powerful Philosopher's Stone, a rogue Amazon bent on destroying the world's male population, or a gorilla gone crazy, these heroes will have their hands full!
Based on DC Comics.  Features the voice work of Carl Lumbly (Men of Honor), George Newbern (Father of the Bride), and Maria Canals (Camp Rock, Wizards of Waverly Place).

Artistic Merit

Plots: 4.5/5
Yes, these are the usual "superhero group" plots, but they work quite well.  There's enough plot convolution and dashes of humor to keep it entertaining, although the three-parter that closes the series did feel a little long.

Production Values: 5/5
Here is where the series excels.  The animation is outstanding; the action sequences are spot-on; the soundtrack is great; the voice work is awesome; and, there isn't anything to complain about in this department.

Moral Content

Positive Elements: 5/5
As you'd expect, the heroes constantly look out for both each other and their fellow man, regularly risking their lives to do so.  They also work in cooperation with the United States Military.  Subplots include a woman's dedication to her significant other, and him risking his life for her in return, as well as the necessity of both males and females in society.

Sex: 4/5
Mostly kissing and mild quips, though there is a scene with a "magazine publisher" who is an obvious nod to Hugh Hefner.

Nudity: 3.5/5
Wonder Woman's costume reveals a lot of leg as well as her shoulders, and a hint of cleavage at times; Hawkgirl's costume also does the latter two.  Other women are seen from time to time in bikinis or other revealing clothes.  Some guys are seen shirtless, and Superman gets a tear in his costume that reveals part of his chest.  However, the cartoon styling makes it all less sultry than it would be if it were live-action.

Violence: 2/5
Superhero movies--even animated ones--are almost always rated "PG-13" or higher by the MPAA, mainly because of violence.  Though the action sequences in this season set aren't the least bit bloody or gory, they're so frequent and intense that they may be too much for some kids.  Heroes, villains, and innocent bystanders get hit, kicked, blasted, thrown, smashed, electrically shocked, etc., countless times.  Vehicular accidents--not just with cars, but also trains and airplanes--happen quite frequently, too.  Some characters' deaths are implied.

Language: 4/5
About five or six exclamations of "Good L---!," and some name-calling.

Drugs: 5/5
None.

Frightening/Intense Scenes: 1.5/5
There's hardly a scene within this first season that isn't frightening and/or intense.  Aside from what was listed under "Violence," some of the monsters themselves are scary-looking.

Other: 3.5/5
Some may have a problem with the fact that polytheism gets mentioned; Wonder Woman often talks about goddesses, and the heroes also have to fight an earthly incarnation of Hades.

Final Score: 4.25/5
This is how a superhero series should be done!  Warner Bros. deserves major kudos for making a multi-hero TV serial that is enthralling, exciting, and fun.  It has its weak moments here and there, but, the overall package is great.  Superhero fans who are eagerly awaiting the next comic-book-turned-blockbuster film should watch this in the meantime; they likely won't be disappointed.  Just keep in mind the above concerns before buying/renting it for a kid.